Soldier Marathon 2010 - 3:58:03

My second marathon, The Soldier Marathon, is now in the books, with both a PR, and a Sub 4 hour finish.  If you would have asked me throughout my training how I thought I would do you would have gotten so many differing answers depending on when you asked.  If you would have asked me at the beginning of the training you may have gotten an unsure answer of, I may be able to do better than last year.  If you would have asked me in early September, about midway through my training, you would have gotten a much more up beat answer and probably a goal somewhere around 3:45.  Once again, if you would have asked me just 2 weeks later you may have gotten the answer that I may not even be able to run it given that I had just pulled a calf muscle.  Of course, even though we don't believe it when they happen, injuries do heal and we do get back to running.

My views once again started to change and become more optimistic when I ran the 13.1 Marathon series Altanta Edition.  This race once again gave me hope that I would complete the marathon.  It wasn't till my taper and just one week out from race day that I actually set my goal of sub-4  My calf and Achilles was still bothering me somewhat and I knew I had missed a key long run, but I knew if I didn't set a stretch goal I would never make it.

As my taper got serious so did my hydration and nutrition.  I remembered all to vividly hitting the wall at mile 21 last year when I ran my first marathon at The 2009 Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon.  I was confident that the wall came because of a lack of fueling both during and before the race, so this year I took the fueling much more seriously and started to eat for race day 4 days prior.  I stuck to my eating and hydration plan very well but that still didn't help me avoid getting sick just 3 days prior to race day.  As if the stress of the taper and pending race day was not already enough I was dealt one more blow that caused me to question the sub-4 goal and even scared me into thinking about a possible DNF or not even starting at all.  Obviously, since you are currently reading a race report with some spoilers at the beginning, the sickness did not do me in.

After a final shake up on Friday morning my wonderfully supportive wife and I headed out to Columbus, Georgia.  The trip is about 2 hours and 45 minutes and I fully anticipated having to make more pit stops during this trip than the 26.2 mile trip I would make the next morning.  About half way there the hydration hit me like the cars hit the 20+ dead deer we saw along side the road and I had to make a quick stop along the way.  Why is it that the person in front of you decides not to go on a green light making you wait another full cycle ONLY when the need to turn is urgent?

A few days before heading to Columbus I was contacted by Mike Edwards through DailyMile.  Mike and I have been long time Twitter friends and he manages the Below The Knee Shoe Store in Columbus.  Since he asked and it was on our way we stopped by Friday to see him at his store.  It was great chatting with him and some of his co-workers as we hung out for a little bit.  He gave me a few pointers on the race and running in general and then reminisced about my broken collar bone a couple years back.

Sony Walkman Runners
This is the first time I have traveled and stayed overnight for a race so I had everything (and then some) packed up on Thursday night.  Sony Electronics sponsored me in this race and so I was running with the shirt that they sent me.  I don't look good in sleeveless shirts and so I did something I wasn't supposed to and didn't even try on the shirt till Thursday night while packing.  To my delight horror, the shirt was a tight fitting shirt which gave me all kinds of confidence made me self consious with how great I would look come race morning.  Sony also sent me one of their Sony W Series Walkman® MP3 Players to review earlier this year and was also part of this promotion.  I chose not to wear it during the race because I believe that part of the draw of racing is meeting new people and the conversations that go along with the run.

We stopped by the National Infantry Museum to pick up the bib and race packet when we got to Fort Benning and then we finished off the evening Friday night with some Subway for my last meal.  I chose to do all my carb-loading earlier in the week and ended that with a lunchtime meal of Chicken Fettuccine. After getting everything ready for morning I broke open all the packets of Shot Bloks that I was using in the morning.  After having difficulty during getting the package open during one of my long runs I decided to separate them into individual servings (3ea) in ziplock baggies.  I figured this would both be easier to open and keep them separated in the amount I wanted to take each time.

Morning came, but not soon enough.  You would think it was my first marathon by the way I couldn't sleep.  We went to bed by 9 but couldn't get to sleep, and by 3:30 I was starting to wake up every 10 minutes.  Finally, I just gave up at 4:45 and got up, got some coffee going, and started eating my two pieces of whole wheat bread I brought for breakfast.  I took care of all the important details including, but not limited to, applying the EVERSTRIDE® Anti Chafing Sport Stick to all the right places.  Everstride sent me some of this a few weeks back to try out.  I had been using it on some of my long run but the race day was the ultimate test.  After everything was taken care of I finished getting dressed, packed up, and we headed out the door just before 6:00.

The night before when driving around we accidently found a back road to the National Infantry Museum where the race started and ended. This came in very handy as we didn't have any traffic to deal with at all when driving to the race.  We arrived shortly after 6:00 and walked inside where it was warm.  The temperature was currently about 42 degrees with a high expected in the mid 60's by noon, almost perfect to run a marathon in.  Shortly after walking in the door we spotted  Mike Edwards again.  As I walked up to Mike someone else got my attention and it just happened to be Chris Hatcher whom I had met on DailyMile as well.  I didn't know Chris as well, but he told me he would be looking for me so I wasn't surprised when he found me.  It turned out that all three of us had the same goal of sub-4, and very similar race plans.  We all went our own ways to take care of some last minute warm ups and preparations.

The time neared 7:00 am so everyone headed to the start line where the cannon and soldiers were awaiting us.  It was time to get down to the running gear.  I took off the sweatshirt and long pants, but chose to keep the gloves on.  It was still pretty chilly, but it really didn't feel that bad.  After the National Anthem, and some last minute instructions that we couldn't hear the cannon sounded and we were off.  It took nearly 20 seconds to cross the starting line, but there was a pretty big field of nearly 1,000 runners between the full and half marathon - pretty good for an Inaugural Race.

It didn't take long for me to catch up with Chris after starting.  We settled in and started talking, not knowing then that we would be spending the next 26.2 miles together.  Shortly after the first mile while we were heading into Fort Benning we came up to the biggest hill of the course.  The hill wasn't too bad, and it was all too fitting that we had a Drill Sergeant helping us with the motivation to get up the hill.

The first water stop came near the 2 mile mark and I was ready to start what I had practiced so many times before.  I was a bit concerned because I trained with Gatorade, but the race was partially sponsored by CeraSport so that was the Electrolyte replacement drink offered throughout the course as well as at the finish line. My plan was to drink the CeraSport at each stop, except for when I was taking the Shot Bloks at 6 mile intervals (unless the plan changed)

We ran the next few miles around some of the houses and other buildings in Fort Benning before heading back out for the long out and back portion of the course along the Chattahoochee River.  Shortly after we made it to the Riverwalk the 6 mile mark came and it was time to break out the Shot Bloks.  My first 3 Bloks went down easy just before making it to the water stop.  We had a very scenic run beside a lake on our way to the river.  The lake was still blanketed with the morning fog giving it a very calm and peaceful contrast to the huffing and puffing runners going by.  Before too long we were running along the river.

The Riverwalk was very curvy and didn't ever seem to go in a straight line.  This is the point when I gave up on my GPS watch and relied solely on the lap timer on my other watch.  I wore two watches for this specific reason.  If the GPS started to get too far off at the splits I didn't want to rely on it for pacing and end up blowing my goal because it was telling me I was running faster than how the course was actually marked.

Chris and I were well into the groove by this point.  We were helping each other with pacing at each and every mile.  I would call out the splits and he would sometimes echo with what his watch was saying.  We would then adjust accordingly.  We were trying to keep to an even 9 min pace, but we were hanging closer to the 8:50 mark this early in the race.

We progressed down the river and eventually the half marathoners left us as they turned around to head back to the Museum.  The sun was starting to warm things up and it was very comfortable.  As we came up on the 11 mile mark we were crossing a boardwalk covered bridge.  There was a lady there with her dog watching the runners.  I asked her to let me borrow her dog to chase me a bit because I needed to make up some time.  She just laughed so I was still on my own.  The next water stop was around mile 12, and it was also time for my next set of Shot Bloks.

Sometime between the bridge and downtown Columbus we came up on an Alligator warning sign somewhat similar to this one.  I mentioned that I heard that alligators could run pretty fast, but Chris was quick to mention that all he had to do was outrun me.

It wasn't too long before the 14 mile mark came and it was time to cross the river into Alabama.  We crossed over the bridge and ran for nearly a mile through a riverside park in Alabama before crossing back over into Georgia to run through parts of downtown Columbus.  I could feel myself starting to fade a little bit quicker than earlier in the race so I changed my plans on how often I would take in the Shot Bloks.  I brought extras so I could change mid race if I wanted to so I was not in any danger of running out.  I took the next 3 pack at mile 16 just before the water stop and decided I would continue to take them at 4 mile intervals throughout the rest of the race.

As we neared the 17 mile mark we passed Mike as he was heading back to the riverwalk.  He was nearly a half mile in front of us by this time and we still had a block to go around before getting back to the riverwalk.  As we made our way back to the riverwalk we were trying to speed up.  We had let the last 3 miles get a little slow at close to a 9:07 pace and we wanted to get back to our target pace.  We ended up speeding up too much at an 8:39 pace and ran one of our fastest miles before we realized what we had done and slowed it back down.  I was focused on conserving energy so I slowed back a bit too much at this point to a 9:17 pace, the slowest so far.  Chris started to get a little ahead of me here and he thought I was done.  By mile 19 I was back with him and we were once again the team that was going to see this through to the end.

We were nearing the 20 mile mark (the halfway point) and only had a few more good 9:05-9:10 pace miles in us before we would start to fade.  We ran strong through 19, 20, and 21 at this pace and then we started to slip again.  This was the point where we both crossed into new territory.  In my first marathon I hit the wall at mile 21 and had to walk/run the rest of the way in.  Chris has a similar story from his first marathon.  We talked about this a little bit over the next couple miles and the fact that we were both running further than we had every run before given that we both had started to walk a bit by this time in our previous marathons.

We came past mile 23 and I looked at the watch.  I told him all we needed to do was do this last 5k done in 30 minutes, a 10 minute pace, and the sub-4 goal was all ours.  At this point I started to get a bit emotional as I knew the sub-4 was within reach, all I had to do was keep going.

Mile 24 came and I opted to forgo the Shot Bloks this one last time.  My stomach was starting to feel a bit queasy and I was worried that the Shot Bloks would do me in.  I took on some CeraSport and some water and kept moving.  We had just run a 9:30 pace so we had banked an extra 30 seconds for that last 5k, but it was getting more difficult to keep moving.  Somewhere in this area we caught up with Mike who was now struggling quite a bit.

One last water stop to go.  As we were nearing the last water stop we only had about a half mile to go to the finish line.  Chris mentioned that he was going to pass up this stop because he didn't know if he would be able to get going again.  I was feeling the same way and so we both passed by this last stop.

This last half mile was brutal, but we kept moving.  Chris started to pull in front of me just a little bit again and I didn't have enough to keep up with him.  As we neared the 26 mile mark and the turn back into the Museum we had a guy in a red shirt pass us.  I wanted so badly to pass this guy back but just didn't have it in me.  This guy in the red was the only person that passed us the entire second half of the race.  We passed a lot of people that were hurting in the last 4 miles, but this guy was the only one that passed us.

The last .1 came and we turned down the Avenue of Flags for the finish.  The finish line was in sight, but it still seemed so far away.  I battled it to the end and then saw my wife near the finish cheering me on and taking pictures.  I knew that I would cross that finish line in under 4 hours and I was so proud, but also so tired. Chris crossed the line first and I was right behind him.  We both looked back and mentioned that without each other we probably would not have made it across the finish line in under 4 hours.  We pulled each other along we were struggling and held each other back when we needed to conserve energy.  (You can see more finishing pictures by clicking the above image and using the viewer to page through, or also here: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9)

The finish line was great and the soldiers and volunteers did a great job.  They had the medal's and blankets ready for us and plenty of water and food as well.  The one problem I had was they also gave us a juice box style container of the CeraSport which I couldn't get the straw off and into the container.  Luckily my wife showed up pretty quick and was able to help me.

This race was very well organized, especially for an inaugural race.  There were soldiers all over the course including a 2 Star General from what I heard, and of course the Drill Sergeants.

After I walked around a bit I finally took up my wife's offer to site down in the chair she had brought.  I didn't want to sit down to early because of the fear of not being able to get back up.  I had drank a lot of fluids and eaten a little bit.  I was trying to eat a hamburger but it was just too dry for me and I had to drink between each bite.  I told my wife this and asked her is she wanted it.  She took a bite and said it wasn't too dry at all, and was actually pretty good.  I guess I was more dehydrated than I thought :)

While sitting there my wife said "You did it, you finished in under 4 hours"  That was the time it actually hit me and I started to get emotional and tear up.  Breaking 4 hours may not be a big deal to a lot of people, but it is a coveted time that separates a lot, and I did it.  There is no way to cheat to get across that finish line regardless of what time you do, you have to put in the training and all the hard work, and you have to run the race..... and I DID IT!!

My official finishing time was 3:58:03 chip time, 3:58:18 clock time.  I was 102 out of 252 men, and 124 overall out of 357.  My splits can be found on my running log.  This race was much better than my first marathon last year, and if presented with the choice I would do this one again over the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon.  This course was awesome (although a bit hillier than they let on) There are very few things I would change about the race.  I do have to say the highlight was making a new friend and being able to run with him the entire way.

Thanks for reading, I know I am long winded :)